Friday, 8 July 2016

The Extraordinary Gift of the Mind:Part-8

Continued from Part-7

By Alex Grey

23.    Pleasure and Pain

We have seen in the previous articles that the Mind has an ability to perceive. It organizes the experiences gained via external and internal senses into knowledge. This is an evolutionary process, and is biased towards a certain goal, namely, the sustenance of the Mind. Anything that is unnecessary for the existence of the Mind is simply not organized or is organized very weakly. The goal of the Mind to remain in existence is auto-set, it is by necessity, because any other goals that may appear are destroyed sooner or later by the impermanence (continuous change, the Experiencing). This goal biases the perception process and almost all actions of the Mind and results in a reward/punishment system, that rewards (enhances) favourable perceptions/actions and punishes (diminishes) the non-favourable ones. Such a system is at the core of any evolutionary algorithm, as AI/AGI programmers/researchers know very well [1].

The rewards cause the behaviour/actions/perception helpful in sustenance and preservation of the Mind to repeat often and strengthen the structures, while the punishments cause the unhelpful or damaging behaviour/actions/perception to diminish and destroys the structures that cause these or creates new structures to prevent the damages. The reward and punishment are also perceived, they are the familiar perceptions of pleasure and pain. They appear as qualia, a distinct experience that cannot be shared with others (such as the experience of seeing colors), but can only be inferred. Why is there a need to perceive the rewards and punishments as “flavours” of pleasure and pain? This is same as asking why is there a need to perceive colors and why do they look like the way they look like, or in other words – why is red, red? These are just structures, non-physical ones, a result of unique experiences, created to help organize the experiences (As we have seen in the case of time and space). The pleasure and pain provide a useful tool for biasing the Mind towards continued existence. Their perception is a meta-process that aids in their recognition and memory formation. One tends to remember the experiences that cause extreme pain or pleasure. These cause very effective learning.


Pleasure and pain are complex perceptions, they modulate the ordinary perceptions (external and internal both). Tasting a sweet fruit using the sense of taste, not only results in a perception of the sweetness (a qualia) but is also modulated as pleasure, assigning a good reward to that perception and consequently to the action of eating the sweet fruit. The result is that one forms a tendency to eat such fruits, and it is no doubt helpful in continued existence of the Mind. Pain biases the perceptions negatively, such as the sensation of hitting one’s fingers while hammering a nail, and consequently prohibits one’s action of hitting his fingers again. This also ensures the continued existence of the Mind. So the purpose of both pleasure and the pain is same, and therefore we grouped them together. Pleasure causes attraction or preference towards the stimulant, while pain causes repulsion or avoidance from anything that was painful. This is the base on which Likes and Dislikes are formed. These are formed very early in childhood, as we all have experienced. Likes and dislikes govern our actions much more than rational and logical thinking does.
The smallest pain in our little finger gives us more concern than the destruction of millions of our fellow beings.
- William Hazlitt

The Mind not only rewards/punishes the external actions but also the internal ones. An imagination of eating a sweet fruit also produces a certain amount of pleasure, so does the memory of your mate. Similarly, visualizing oneself as being insulted by an enemy produces all the sensations of pain, that an actual insult or attack would, and enforces the dislike (aka hate) for him. This prevents the Mind from forgetting the enemy and risking damage in future. It is all purely survival oriented. However, the Mind knows no difference in internal and external stimulations of the pain and pleasures. The body and other mental programs/entities react in similar ways when the source of pleasure/pain is imagination or a memory. This makes the situation somewhat complicated, because now one has the potential of inflicting internal pains on oneself via repetitive recalls of an unfortunate event, or in other extreme, has the potential to get lost in pleasurable fantasies or memories of pleasure causing events. The latter is not very harmful, unless it goes out of control and the person loses his contact with the external world, or if such indulgences distorts his world view in extreme ways.

The pleasure and pain can take very sophisticated forms, especially in the case of human Minds [2]. So one can take pleasure in viewing a nice painting or a movie, listening to music, reading a story book or just discussing events with friends. The opposite is also true, one can dislike (perceive pain) when one encounters dirty places (public toilets?), or selfish and cruel people or modern pop-music. The most pleasurable things for someone are the ones that satisfies his most desired needs, which as we know, may or may not be sophisticated. The pursuit of mathematics and search for mysteries of nature, is the most sophisticated pleasure one can have. These experiences, due to their purity, form the most perfect structures in the Mind (higher organization of experiences), and so receive ample rewards.

The Mind suffers from a sort of flaw in this business of pleasure/pain. An action or perception is pleasurable in direct proportion to its novelty and need. Once it becomes old and the needs are met, the same stimulus becomes neutral (or sometimes turns into pain if not stopped). I say “sort of” because it is a natural mechanism to stop one from overdoing a pleasurable activity. Pleasure is a positive feedback loop with the action-reward amplifying each other endlessly, this can easily get out of hand, so a negative bias appears as soon as the needs are met. By making familiar/repetitive things less pleasurable, the mechanism encourages the Mind to seek better stimulus, or to not to depend on only one stimulus. So it’s a flaw but not a flaw, it’s a feature. We see such mechanisms in control systems implemented frequently.

For example, if one is hungry, the need for food is the top most priority and one encounters a kind of painful experience – the hunger. It springs us into action, like nothing else does. Eating provides the much needed nourishment for the structures of the Mind and it is rewarded with pleasure. The pleasure modulates the sense of the taste of food, and the circuits/programs that cause this action are strengthened, while memories are updated of perceiving hunger, the pain and satisfying it, and the associated pleasure. Learning happens here. However, as soon as the stomach is full, some control programs intervene and cause the pleasure to disappear, and if one continues to eat, the same act turns painful and the food suddenly becomes repulsive. The same is also committed to memory. If one is offered the same kind of food again and again, every day, then the pleasure to pain converter programs (P2P in short) kick in again, and result in the person seeking new tastes, new dishes. This is a much familiar experience and you may think that it does not deserve a description so detailed, but I took pains to mention it because it is important to know the process. The same mechanism is responsible for many of our actions, including those that cause immense suffering, such as expansion of a kings kingdom to breaking of marriages.

Pleasure and pain, though directly opposite are contrived to be constant companions.
- Pierre Charron

If you are on a path of knowledge, it becomes necessary to know the mechanisms of pain and pleasures. The first and foremost thing to know is just that – these are nothing but mechanisms. They are there to serve some useful purpose, they are not the end goal of your life, they support life. These were evolved during the early periods in the evolutionary history of the consciousness, and so deserve much less of importance than we actually give them. For most of us, our lives are nothing but seeking of pleasures and avoidance of pains. Such activities take up majority of our life time. Everything, from sleeping to ruling a country is coloured with pleasures, likes and dislikes. These acts are not seen as they are, but as a source of pleasure, and that twists the whole purpose out of proportions. Please see the immensity of this simple mechanism of our “reptilian” brains.

It is the nature of the wise to resist pleasures, but the foolish to be a slave to them.
- Epictetus

What do the P2P programs do? They seem innocent, don’t they? These rule you, that’s what they do. We are slaves of pleasure, pain, likes and dislikes. If that is not blowing your Mind at this time and nothing else will. Pleasures, ranging from the sweet taste of mother’s milk to intimate touch of one’s partner, form a basis of all relationships. All relations are related to pleasures, except that of a teacher and student [3]. Best friendships are a result of pleasure we get when we are in the company of our friends. Friendships come very close to teacher-student relation in terms of purity, rest of all our relations are purely pleasure based. The P2P acts even on the closest kind of relations, and therefore, living with your loved one for many years causes all the romance to disappear as one now sees the plain imperfections of the partner, and it becomes old, boring and sometimes painful. If you are wondering what is causing your partner to dislike you more and more and it all can be “felt” in their behaviour, the manner in which they now touch you or call your name etc etc, then it is simply P2P in action. It is telling them to seek novelty, change, variety and so non-monogamous relations begin. Break ups happen because the coupling has served its purpose. This is why staying away from people you like has a positive effect, it kills P2P and renovates the pleasure programs, inciting actions, such as sending love letters. Even the most committed relations suffer from P2P, where the reason for being together is sometimes not pleasure but security or financial dependency. These kind of relations break as soon as the factors enslaving the partners are removed. A relation that is not based on pleasure seeking lasts much longer as it avoids the P2P mechanism altogether [4]. A relation based on mutual trust, respect and unconditional love is such a relation. Of course, these are as rare as Unobtainium.

P2P is responsible for one’s jumping from a job to other job, not gaining any proficiency at all. A tedious and monotonous job is disliked by all, because – P2P. Running after more and more money even if one has more than enough is a result of pleasure seeking and P2P, because once you have a million, the pleasure you get from it goes downhill quickly, inciting you into donkey work and monkey business, so that you can get 10 million, because last time it was the money that gave you everlasting pleasures. Right? P2P is responsible for hoarding behaviour, collecting useless stuff, spending money on useless stuff, because the last one you bought loses its appeal within a few days. How many people know this and can kill this mechanism? Not many.

Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.
- Soren Kierkegaard

P2P is the reason most people cannot excel in a particular skill, such as an art or scientific/engineering pursuits. These disciplines demand too much attention, hard work and time. Usually the pleasures gained initially are miniscule and the learning is often very painful (aka the learning curve). Those who survive the initial pain inflicted upon them by the P2P, find an ocean of pleasure awaiting before them. Once you master an art, it is a source of endless pleasure. But most of us do not reach there, thanks to our ignorance about P2P, we remain ordinary.

Pleasure for one hour, a bottle of wine. Pleasure for one year a marriage; but pleasure for a lifetime, a garden.
- Chinese Proverb

Substance addiction is a result of overstimulation of pleasure centres. Such behaviour causes extreme suffering to the addict as well as to the people around him. It is difficult to get rid of these programs once they form and often the person lives their (short) life enslaved by them. Substances include food, a cause of obesity, diseases, poverty and what not. One might suspect that P2P fails here and the self-amplification loop of pleasure works unhindered. But addictions are not without pains as we know well.
That which is escaped now is pain to come.
- A proverb

Another form of addiction is Attachment. It appears innocent until it starts causing suffering. We will discuss the cure for all the strangeness that the reward and punishment mechanisms cause in the articles on inflictions of the Mind. As usual, and you must have guessed, the cure consists of becoming aware of these programs and taking control of them. The question is how. Stay tuned.

You are quaffing drink from a hundred fountains: whenever any of these hundred yields less, your pleasure is diminished. But when the sublime fountain gushes from within you, no longer need you steal from the other fountains.
- Jalal-Uddin Rumi

By Paolo Troilo

24.    Emotions

We have yet another nebulous term here. It is confusing because it is a mixture of many things that happen inside our Mind at an often inaccessible level. An Emotion is an internal action combined with the reward/punishment system, and it operates at a more basic level than intentions or thoughtful planning. We become aware of an emotion only after it has already happened and finished its business. Emotions are triggered by extreme survival related events/needs and cause the most ancient structures in Mind to activate. No doubt, emotions result in action, and that’s where the trouble lies.

Being coloured with reward/punishment, emotions are also of two kinds – positive and negative. You must have already guessed that, so I will not explain them in detail. The only thing I say is, they are the same mechanism, doesn’t matter whether positive or negative. You must be wondering why emotions are an extraordinary quality of the Mind, they are internal actions, just as any other. Yes they are, but they are far from ordinary. Emotions are “felt”, they have extreme effect on the body, they are very powerful internal actions and they last for a long time compared to intention or planning. Emotions impress upon memory like nothing else and stay with us for lifetimes sometimes. Emotions come under abilities of the Mind, only because, it were the emotions that kept the Mind and its structure alive in the early periods of its evolution. Since they act at a lower level [5], they are very effective structures for survival. We are thankful for the emotions, they have kept us alive and have added colour to the otherwise boring job of surviving.

By starving emotions we become humorless, rigid and stereotyped; by repressing them we become literal, reformatory and holier-than-thou; encouraged, they perfume life; discouraged, they poison it.
- Joseph Collins

As an example, let’s take anger, which is a commonly experienced emotion. Anger stands for many internal actions and external manifestations of them, usually triggered by an external threat to the survival. The threat can be an attack by an enemy (predator in ancient version) or an insult by one’s relative (say betrayal in modern times). The threat results in fear, another emotion devoted to keeping us alive. The fear here is a reaction to threat and a cause of fight/flight behaviour. If the choice is fight (depending on the situation, say you are bigger than your enemy), then the primitive programs to deal with a fight fire up. The heart rate and breathing goes up. The blood rushes to the brain and to the extremities. The muscles twitch in preparation of an intense action. The person starts shaking with over activity of neuro-motor circuits. The pitch decreases and loudness of the voice increases, in an attempt to look powerful and bigger. The body takes a posture which is dominating. The higher thinking activities are suspended (well, yes its needed, no time for that). The eyes dilate and nose sniffs to take in most of the clues about the enemy. The whole system is stressed beyond limits, and that is what ensures survival in a deadly fight. All of this is just one emotion – anger.

Does that sound like an animal trying to attack you? If it does, then you got it all. Emotions are there for a purpose. Unfortunately, they activate in our day-to-day life even when not needed. Modern life usually does not need severe mindless actions. Still we find that people generally act more on their emotions and less on their thoughtful planning. Generally speaking, actions coming out of emotions have heavy consequences. They are not in control obviously. The emotion is about losing control, not gaining it.

What about the positive emotions, like lust? Or the finer emotions like pity/love and what have you? As I said, they are all the same – a primitive strategy of the Mind, that worked very well when it was needed in ancient times. Emotions are powerful mechanisms of our animal Mind, also known as animal nature. Well that sounds rather insulting or inferior, but then it is just our belief that animals are somehow “inferior” and man is, you know – “man”, whatever that is. In my experience, there is no difference between humans and animals, except some additional structures in the Mind. All life forms are creation of the ever-creating auto process – the Fundamental Process. There is no concept of superiority there. This is the problem with beliefs, they conjure up things that are not there.

The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.
- George Santayana

Emotions, especially the positive ones, are the reason most of the people feel alive. Their lives and memories are full of emotions and revolve around them. As usual there is nothing wrong with that – its all a play of Presence, Self and the Experiencing, and there is no need to be otherwise. However, if you are on a path of knowledge, it is best to see the emotions are they are – primitive actions. It is ok to experience them, as a part and parcel of human experience, but it is not ok to be governed by them. Actions taken under the influence of emotions will certainly regress you on your path, I can say that with conviction. One must attempt to free oneself from emotions if one wants to progress sufficiently on the path. However, it is not recommended to get rid of them, as you will simply destroy these useful structures. Much is gained when you keep them as your pets. So how to deal with the emotions, when you are on a path? I consider all emotions as afflictions of the Mind, from the PoV of a seeker, so I shall attempt some answers in the coming articles on the afflictions of the Mind.

Isn’t happiness a state where majority of our experiences are positive emotions and feelings of pleasure as compared to their opposites? It depends on your definition of Happiness. And this is a good definition – the absence of negative emotions, ugly feelings, pain, bad people and harmful situations from ones life. In addition, happiness involves things such as beauty around you and ethics, loving and caring behaviour of oneself and others. Perhaps achievements and superhuman accomplishments. But yes, emotions form a part of happiness, an important part. So why am I advocating getting rid of emotions when the goal is happiness? There are two misunderstandings here – firstly, as I mentioned, it is not recommended to get complete rid of emotions, they assist us in survival and add flavour to it, and of course, happiness involves positive emotions. Secondly, we are assuming that the happiness (lack of suffering) is the end goal, which it is not. The end goal in the path of the knowledge is Freedom, and it also means freedom from the need to be happy [6]. Happiness can be considered as a stepping stone, a sub-goal, because it is the happiness that gives us a taste of freedom. When you are happy, you will clearly see that there is a lack of bondage of one or other kind, and only then you will appreciate the value of freedom. It is a subject for another article, the matter of happiness and freedom. Right now we continue with the abilities of the Mind, only a few are remaining.



[1] Also known as the weighing system, that assigns weights to inputs, enhancing or reducing their impact on the results. See a good starting point to learn more on EAs and GAs. We have discussed before why the Mind is algorithmic in nature, it is because, it is a product of the Fundamental Process, which cannot be anything else but algorithmic. Refer back to previous blog entries for details.

[2] The animals, as can be inferred from their behaviours, are equally capable of pleasure and pain, and not surprisingly are entirely governed by them. Pleasure/pain programs in animals are responsible for their survival. Their intelligence, however tiny it may be, is totally geared towards pleasure seeking and pain avoiding behaviours. This is the reason that some animals can be effectively trained via reward and punishment alone.

[3] This deserves more explanation. Is the teacher-student relation even a relation? Anyhow, I’m thankful to Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev for this teaching.

[4] It is debatable whether one should give more weight to the quality vs the duration of a relation. I guess, it’s a matter of like/dislike. Optimising both is desirable, if one wants to be in the trap of relations, that is.

[5] By lower, I mean a more directly connected structure, not an inferior one.

[6] Freedom, Liberation, Mukti, Mokshya, Nirvana, and many more terms point to the same state. Paths are many, the destination is the same.

No comments:

Post a Comment